Travels in Morocco, by James Richardson

Volume 2

Chapter 1

The Mogador Jewesses. — Disputes between the Jew and the Moor. — Melancholy Scenes. — The Jews of the Atlas. — Their Religion. — Beautiful Women. — The Four Wives. — Statues discovered. — Discrepancy of age of married people. — Young and frail fair ones. — Superstition respecting Salt. — White Brandy. — Ludicrous Anecdote.

Notwithstanding the imbecile prejudices of the native Barbary Jews, such of them who adopt European habits, or who mix with European merchants, are tolerably good members of society, always endeavouring to restrain their own peculiarities. The European Jewesses settled in Mogador, are indeed the belles of society, and attend all the balls (such as they are). The Jewess sooner forgets religious differences than the Jew, and I was told by a Christian lady, it would be a dangerous matter for a Christian gentleman to make an offer of marriage to a Mogador Jewess, unless in downright earnest; as it would be sure to be accepted.

Monsieur Delaport, Consul of France, was the first official person who brought prominently forward the native and other Jews into the European society of this place, and since then, these Jews have improved in their manners, and increased their respectability. The principal European Jews are from London, Gibraltar, and Marseilles. Many native Jews have attempted to wear European clothes; and a European hat, or coat, is now the rage among native Jewesses, who all aspire to get a husband wearing either. Such are elements of the progress of the Jewess population in this part of the world, and there is no doubt their position has been greatly ameliorated within the last half century, or since the time of Ali Bey, who thus describes their wretched condition in his days.

“Continual disputes arise between the Jew and the Moor; when the Jew is wrong, the Moor takes his own satisfaction, and if the Jew be right, he lodges a complaint with the judge, who always decides in favour of the Mussulman. I have seen the Mahometan children amuse themselves by beating little Jews, who durst not defend themselves. When a Jew passes a mosque, he is obliged to take off his slippers, or shoes; he must do the same when he passes the house of the Kaëd, the Kady, or any Mussulman of distinction. At Fez, and in some other towns, they are obliged to walk barefooted.” Ali Bey mentions other vexations and oppressions, and adds, “When I saw the Jews were so ill-treated and vexed in every way, I asked them why they did not go to another country. They answered that they could not do so, because they were slaves of the Sultan.” Again he says, “As the Jews have a particular skill in thieving, they indemnify themselves for the ill-treatment they receive from the Moors, by cheating them daily.”

Jewesses are exempt from taking off their slippers, or sandals, when passing the mosques. The late Emperor, Muley Suleiman, 40 professed to be a rigidly exact Mussulman, and considered it very indecent, and a great scandal that Jewesses, some of them, like most women of this country, of enormous dimensions, should be allowed to disturb the decent frame of mind of pious Mussulmen, whilst entering the threshold of the house of prayer, by the sad exhibitions of these good ladies stooping down and shewing their tremendous calves, when in the act of taking off their shoes before passing the mosques. For such reasons, Jewesses are now privileged and exempted from the painful necessity of walking barefoot in the streets.

The policy of the Court in relation to the Jews continually fluctuates. Sometimes, the Emperor thinks they ought to be treated like the rest of his subjects; at other times, he seems anxious to renew in all its vigour the system described by Ali Bey. Hearing that the Jews of Tangier, on returning from Gibraltar, would often adopt the European dress, and so, by disguising themselves, be treated like Christians and Europeans, he ordered all these would-be Europeans forthwith to be undressed, and to resume their black turban.

Alas, how were all these Passover, Tabernacle and wedding festivals, these happy and joyous days of the Jewish society of Mogador, changed on the bombardment of that city! What became of the rich and powerful merchants, the imperial vassals of commerce with their gorgeous wives bending under the weight of diamonds, pearls, and precious gems, during that sad and unexpected period? The newspapers of the day recorded the melancholy story. Many of the Jews were massacred, or buried underneath the ruins of the city; their wives subjected to plunder; the rest were left wandering naked and starving on the desolate sandy coast of the Atlantic, or hidden in the mountains, obtaining a momentary respite from the rapacious fury of the savage Berbers and Arabs.

It is well known that, while the French bombarded Tangier and Mogador from without, the Berber and Arab tribes, aided by the canaille of the Moors, plundered the city from within. Several of the Moorish rabble declared publicly, and with the greatest cowardice and villainous effrontery, “When the French come to destroy Mogador, we shall go and pillage the Jews’ houses, strip the women of their ornaments, and then escape to the mountains from the pursuit of the Christians.” These threats they faithfully executed; but, by a just vengeance, they were pillaged in turn, for the Berbers not only plundered the Jews themselves, but the Moors who had escaped from the city laden with their booty.

It is to be hoped that a better day is dawning for North African Jews. The Governments of France and England can do much for them in Morocco.

The Jews of the Atlas formed the subject of some of Mr. Davidson’s literary labours; I have made further inquiries and shall give the reader some account of them, adding that portion of Mr. Davidson’s information which was borne out by further investigation. The Atlas Jews are physically, if not morally, superior to their brethren who reside among the Moors. They are dispersed over the Atlas ranges, and have all the characteristics of mountaineers. They enjoy, like their neighbours, the Berbers and Shelouhs, a species of quasi-independence of the Imperial authority, but they usually attach themselves to certain Berber chieftains who protect them, and whose standards they follow.

These are the only Jews in Mahometan countries of whom I have heard as bearing arms. They have, however, their own Sheiks, to whose jurisdiction all domestic matters are referred. They wear the same attire as the mountaineers, and are not distinguishable from them, they do not address the Moors by the term of respect and title “Sidi,” but in the same way as the Moors and Arabs when they accost each other. They speak the Shelouh language.

Mr. Davidson mentions some curious circumstances about these Jews, and of their having a city beyond the Atlas, where three or four thousand are living in perfect freedom, and cultivating the soil, which they have possessed since the time of Solomon. The probability is that Mr. Davidson’s informant refers to the Jews of the Oasis of Sahara, where there certainly are some families of Jews living in comparative freedom and independence.

As to the peculiarities of the religion of the Atlas Jews, they are said not to have the Pentateuch and the law in the same order as Jews generally. They are unacquainted with Ezra, or Christ; they did not go to Babylon at the captivity, but were dispersed over Africa at that period. They are a species of Caraaites, or Jewish Protestants. Shadai is the name which they apply to the Supreme Being, when speaking of him. Their written law begins by stating that the world was many thousand years old when the present race of men was formed, which, curiously enough, agrees with the researches of modern geology. The present race of men are the joint offspring of different and distinct human species. The deluge is not mentioned by them. God, it is said, appeared to Ishmael in a dream, and told him he must separate from Isaac, and go to the desert, where he would make him a great nation. There would ever after be enmity between the two races, as at this day there is the greatest animosity between the Jews and Mahometans.

The great nucleus of these Shelouh Jews is in Jebel Melge, or the vast ridge of the Atlas capped with eternal snows; and they hold communications with the Jews of Ait Mousa, Frouga or Misfuvâ. They rarely descend to the plains or cities of the empire, and look upon the rest of the Jews of this country as heretics. Isolation thus begets enmity and mistrust, as in other cases. A few years ago, a number came to Mogador, and were not at all pleased with their visit, finding fault with everything among their brethren. These Jewish mountaineers are supposed to be very numerous. In their homes, they are inaccessible. So they live in a wild independence, professing a creed as free as their own mountain airs. God, who made the hills, made likewise man’s freedom to abide therein. Before taking leave of the Maroquine Israelites, I must say something of their personal appearance. Both in Tangier and Mogador, I was fortunate enough to be acquainted with families, who could boast of the most perfect and classic types of Jewish female loveliness. Alas, that these beauties should be only charming animals, their minds and affections being left uncultivated, or converted into caves of unclean and tormenting passions. The Jewesses, in general, until they become enormously stout and weighed down with obesity, are of extreme beauty. Most of them have fair complexions; their rose and jasmine faces, their pure wax-like delicate features, and their exceedingly expressive and bewitching eyes, would fascinate the most fastidious of European connoisseurs of female beauty.

But these Israelitish ladies, recalling the fair image of Rachel in the Patriarchal times of Holy Writ, and worthy to serve as models for a Grecian sculptor, are treated with savage disdain by the churlish Moors, and sometimes are obliged to walk barefoot and prostrate themselves before their ugly negress concubines. The male infants of Jews are engaging and goodlooking when young; but, as they grow up, they become ordinary; and Jews of a certain age, are decidedly and most disgustingly ugly. It is possible that the degrading slavery in which they usually live, their continued habits of cringing servility, by which the countenance acquires a sinister air and fiendishly cunning smirk, may cause this change in their appearance. But what contrasts we had of the beauty of countenance and form in the Jewish society of Mogador! You frequently see a youthful woman, nay a girl of exquisite beauty and delicacy of features, married to an old wretched ill-looking fellow of some sixty or seventy years of age, tottering over the grave, or an incurable invalid. To render them worse-looking, whilst the women may dress in any and the gayest colours, the men wear a dark blue and black turban and dress, and though this is prescribed as a badge of oppression, they will often assume it when they may attire themselves in white and other livelier colours. However, men get used to their misery, and hug their chains.

The Jews, at times, though but very rarely, avail themselves of their privilege of four wives granted them in Mahometan countries, and a nice mess they make of it. I knew a Jew of this description in Tunis. He was a lively, jocose fellow, with a libidinous countenance, singing always some catch of a song. He was a silk-mercer, and pretty well off. His house was small, and besides a common salle-à-manger, divided into four compartments for his four wives, each defending her room with the ferocity of a tigress. Two of them were of his own age, about fifty, and two not more than twenty. The two elder ones, I was told by his neighbours, were entirely abandoned by the husband, and the two younger ones were always bickering and quarrelling, as to which of them should have the greater favour of their common tyrant; the house a scene of tumult, disorder and indecency. Amongst the whole of the wives, there was only one child, a boy, of course an immense pet, a little surly wretch; his growth smothered, his health nearly ruined, by the overattentions of the four women, whom he kicked and pelted when out of humour.

This little imp was the fit type, or interpretation of the presiding genius of polygamy. I once visited this happy family, this biting satire on domestic bliss and the beauty of the harem of the East. The women were all sour, and busy at work, weaving or spinning cotton, “Do you work for your husband?” I asked,

The women. — “Thank Rabbi, no.”

Traveller. — “What do you do with your money?”

The women. — “Spend it ourselves.”

Traveller. — “How do you like to have only one husband among you four?”

The women. — “Pooh! is it not the will of God?”

Traveller. — “Whose boy is that?”

The women. — “It belongs to us all.”

Traveller. — “Have you no other children?”

The women. — “Our husband is good for no more than that.”

Whilst I was talking to these angelic creatures, their beloved lord was quietly stuffing capons, without hearing our polite discourse. A European Jew who knew the native society of Jews well, represents domestic bliss to be a mere phantom, and scarcely ever thought of, or sought after. Poor human nature!

I took a walk round the suburbs one morning, whilst a strong wind was bringing the locusts towards the coast, which fell upon us like hailstones. Young locusts frequently crowd upon the neighbouring hills in thousands and tens of thousands. They are little green things. No one knows whence they come and whither they go. These are not destructive. Indeed, unless swarms of locusts appear darkening the sky, and full grown ones, they do not permanently damage the country. The wind usually disperses them; they rarely take a long flight, except impelled by a violent gale. Arabs attempt to destroy locusts by digging pits into which they may fall. This is merely playing with them. Jews fry them in oil and salt, and sell them as we sell shrimps, the taste of which they resemble.

On my return, I passed a Mooress, or rather a Mauritanian Venus, who was so stout that she had fallen down, and could not get up. A mule was fetched to carry her home. But the Moor highly relishes these enormous lumps of fat, according to the standard beauty laid down by the talebs — “Four things in a woman should be ample, the lower part of the back, the thighs, the calves of the legs and the knees.”

Some time ago, there were discovered at Malta various rude statues of women very ample in the lower part of the “back,” supposed to be of Libyan origin, so that stout ladies have been the choicest of the fashion for ages past; the fattening of women, like so many capons and turkeys, begins when they are betrothed.

They then swallow three times a day regular boluses of paste, and are not allowed to take exercise. By the time marriage takes place, they are in a tolerable good condition, not unlike Smithfield fattened heifers. The lady of one of the European merchants being very thin, the Moors frequently asked her husband how it was, and whether she had enough to eat, hinting broadly that he starved her.

On the other hand, two or three of the merchant’s wives were exceedingly stout, and of course great favourites with the men folks of this city.

The discrepancies of age, in married people, is most unnatural and disgusting; whilst the merchants were at Morocco, a little girl of nine years of age was married to a man upwards of fifty. Ten and eleven is a common age for girls to be married. Much has been said of the reverence of children for their parents in the East, and tribes of people migrating therefrom, and the fifth commandment embodies the sentiment of the Eastern world. But there is little of this in Mogador; a European Jewess, who knows all the respectable Jewish and many of the Moorish families, assured me that children make their aged parents work for them, as long as the poor creatures can. “Honour thy father and thy mother,” is quite as much neglected here as in Europe. However, there is some difference. The indigent Moors and Jews maintain their aged parents in their own homes, and we English Christian shut up ours in the Union Bastiles.

To continue this domestic picture, the marriage settlements, especially among the Jews, are ticklish and brittle things, as to money or other mercenary arrangements.

A match is often broken off, because a lamp of the value of four dollars has been substituted for one of the value of twenty dollars, which was first promised on the happy day of betrothal.

Indeed, nearly all marriages here are matters of sale and barter. Love is out of the question, he never flutters his purple wings over the bridal bed of Mogador. A Jewish or Moorish girl having placed before her a rich, old ugly man, of mean and villanous character, of three score years and upwards, and by his side, a handsome youth of blameless character and amiable manners, will not hesitate a moment to prefer the former. As affairs of intrigue and simple animal enjoyment are the great business of life, the ways and means, in spite of Moorish and Mahometan jealousy, as strong as death, by which these young and frail beauties indulge in forbidden conversations, are innumerable. Although the Moors frequently relate romantic legends of lovely innocent brides, who had never seen any other than the faces of their father, or of married ladies, who never raised the veil from off their faces, except to receive their own husbands, and seem to extol such chastity and seclusion; they are too frequently found indulging in obscene imaginations, tempting and seducing the weaker sex from the path of virtue and honour. So that, if women are unchaste here, or elsewhere, men are the more to blame: if woman goes one step wrong, men drag her two more. Men corrupt women, and then punish her for being corrupt, depriving them of their natural and unalienable rights.

Salt in Africa as in Europe is a domestic superstition. A Jewess, one morning, in bidding adieu to her friends, put her fingers into a salt-cellar, and took from it a large pinch of salt, which her friend told me afterwards was to preserve her from the evil one. Salt is also used for a similar important purpose, when, during the night, a person is obliged to pass from one room into another in the dark. It would be an entertaining task to collect the manifold superstitions in different parts of the world, respecting this essential ingredient of human food.

The habit of drinking white brandy, stimulates the immorality of this Maroquine society. The Jews are the great factors of this acqua ardiente, its Spanish and general name. Government frequently severely punishes them for making it; but they still persevere in producing this incentive to intoxication and crime. In all parts of the world, the most degraded classes are the factors of the means of vice for the higher orders of society. Moors drink it under protest, that it is not the juice of the grape. On the Sabbath, the Jewish families are all flushed, excited, and tormented by this evil spirit; but when the highest enjoyments of intellect are denied to men, they must and will seek the lower and beastly gratifications.

Friend Cohen came in one afternoon, and related several anecdotes of the Maroquine Court. When Dr. Brown was attending the Sultan, the Vizier managed to get hold of his cocked hat, and placing it upon his head, strutted about in the royal gardens. Whilst performing this feat before several attendants, the Sultan suddenly made his appearance in the midst of them. The minister seeing him, fell down in a fright and a fit. His Imperial Highness beckoned to the minister in such woful plight, to pacify himself, and put his cloak before his mouth to prevent any one from seeing him laugh at the minister, which he did most immoderately.

Cohen, who is a quack, was once consulted on a case of the harem. Cohen pleaded ignorance, God had not given him the wit; he could do nothing for the patient of his Imperial Highness. This was very politic of Cohen, for another quack, a Moor, had just been consulted, and had had his head taken off, for not being successful in the remedies he prescribed. There would not be quite so much medicine administered among us, weak, cracky, crazy mortals, in this cold damp clime, if such an alternative was proposed to our practitioners.

40 The predecessor of Muley Abd Errahman.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33